Setting the record straight is one of the most powerful things that any of us who care about bats can do to help these often-beleaguered animals. And that’s exactly what Cynthia Myers of San Deigo did when her hometown newspaper ran an article headlined: “Four bats loose in county.”
The story concerned a local man who allegedly took eight Townsend’s big-eared bats from a cave and offered them for sale, at $50 each, on the Internet. Two had died and two others were killed to test for rabies. None of the four was infected.
The man was charged under a state law that prohibits possession because, the newspaper said, “bats can carry rabies and spread the disease by biting people and animals.” Four of the bats escaped and animal-control officered “worry they might be rabid.”
So much for the scary stuff. Myers, a member of Bat Conservation International, responded with a Letter to the Editor that was titled: “Bats are beneficial; just leave them alone.”
“This was a very sad incident, because the bats that were taken from the cave and handled had to be sacrificed to ensure human health,” she wrote. “Also, a colony of rare bats was disturbed and may never recover due to the disturbance of their critical winter hibernation roost.
“I do think the way the story was presented may unduly panic people and incite them to injure or kill any wild bats they encounter here in San Diego. We have many thousands of bats living here, peaceably minding their own business and trying to eat the mosquitoes that could transmit West Nile Disease.”
She went on to explain that bats are no more likely than most other mammals to contract rabies and “as long as people don't handle wild mammals (especially bats, skunks, raccoons, coyotes and foxes), or attempt to keep them as pets, there is no threat to human health.”
“State law prohibits possession of any of our native mammals unless the person obtains special permits to keep or rescue the animals. This law exists both to protect our native wildlife and to protect human health.
“It would be a terrible injustice, Myers concluded, “if more bats were to lose their lives due to a misleading headline or a misguided fear of these timid and misunderstood little mammals.”